High stakes elections for Congress
Not many noticed when Sonia Gandhi quietly made Digvijaya Singh in-charge of Assam last month. Despite the general perception that Congress has no real opponent in the state and that a win can be taken for granted, Sonia was unwilling to take a chance.
Digvijaya replaced law minister Veerappa Moily who is seen as slow and not clued in. Digvijaya is dynamic, hands on and more importantly, seen as a champion of minority rights. This becomes significant given the fact that in Assam, Muslim votes count a great deal. The larger point I am trying to drive at is that Sonia is giving a lot of importance to the Assembly elections. She usually does but this time there seems to be a mission to it.
It's a high stake elections for Congress. Even though the two most interesting states where elections are being held are Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, Congress is in alliance with powerful regional parties in both the states.
Scams, drift within the government, a disinterested party, lazy ministers -- not the best of situation in which to face voters, which is all the more reason Congress needs to do well. It's aware that a win in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will give credit to its allies, yet the arm twisting of the DMK by the Congress gives the Congress high command a hope that it can take some of the credit and look at a face saver.
Take Tamil Nadu. Congress has always succumbed to the blackmailing by the DMK right from 2004. In fact, A Raja's unchecked sway in the telecom ministry is a great example of how the Congress had to look on helplessly. Hence, the tough talk by Sonia to Dayanidhi Maran and Azhagiri did take many within her party by surprise. She told them that enough was enough and she won't be bullied by them anymore. Now if the DMK-Congress combine comes back to power, Congress will certainly gloat along with the DMK. It will be flaunted as a slap on the face of the opposition's campaign and a thumbs down to the people-will-judge-corruption campaign.
That's Tamil Nadu. Coming to the other states now: Kerala (where the Congress-led front stands a good chance), Assam, Puducherry and West Bengal. Here too the referendum logic plays.
Ironically, in Kerala, it will be tough for the Gandhis and the PM to make too much of the corruption charges against the existing Left government there. At any other time, it could but now a scam-hit UPA is the last one to talk about clean politics. Worse, the recent CVC embarrassment originates in Kerala and will make things even more difficult. But a win here could be a game changer for Congress, which has been pampering the state. PM recently spent three days in the state, the maximum he has spent away from Delhi in a domestic tour. In a low-key reshuffle, Vyalar Ravi was made aviation minister. And Rahul Gandhi has been eating parotas a bit too often here. If the Congress wins here, it will be a good reason for the party to smile.
The story is the same for the other assembly elections as well. But a win is important not just as a referendum and an answer to the opposition; it's important for the government and the party morale as well. There is a quiet resignation within the party and government. What's the point, many may ask? Will we face elections soon? No leader would like to face voters given the situation. This makes things difficult for Sonia. An unenthusiastic party cannot fight the opposition, and certainly not the BJP which has tasted blood. For the PM, confused ministers is bad news. He cannot expect any work out of them because, at the end of the day, a government which delivers can help divert attention from some of the scams.
So, it's with some nervousness that Congress faces these elections. Its future ahead certainly hinges on this. And it is worried by the knowledge that yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai!